The Flute Examiner Articles

by Kelly Mollnow Wilson

Pain in the Neck

Pain in the Neck

Recovery Weeks #Twelve and Thirteen: June 19 – July 3, 2013

“If A is a success in life, the A = x + y + z.  Work is x, y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut.”  – Albert Einstein

The Andover Educators conference at Iowa State was fantastic.  I had 3 Alexander Technique lessons and a session with a physical therapist who is also a Feldenkrais practitioner.  All 3 of these gentlemen zoomed right in on the unnecessary holding pattern and I now have lots of things to actually do to get rid of this.  Part of it involves just saying “No” to the muscles that are trying to help.  In my case, “No, dammit.  Your help is not required here.  Thanks for thinking of me. “  Thinking of the upper ribs pointing up at an angle towards the shoulder joint helps release the squished feeling in my upper arm.  Having my first finger lead my whole arm into extension and noticing the texture of what I’m feeling helps get my finger/hand/arm integrated back into my whole.  The physical therapist actually mentioned 3 exercises for strengthening that he said I would be doing, if I were his patient.  I’m definitely going to check with my hand therapist.  He also told me that there is a special interest group for Performing Arts within the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association).  It’s a separate group from PAMA, although many of the practitioners are members of both.

I also performed in a masterclass for Amy Likar, Director of Training for Andover Educators, in my triumphant return to the stage!  I thought long and hard about throwing my name in the lottery of people who wanted to play.  What it came down to was that I’d like to see a master teacher work with an accomplished musician who is recovering from injury.  So often, injured musicians don’t want to deal with this is public.  In this case, I was absolutely confident that there wouldn’t be a more supportive audience for me anywhere on the planet.  Quite honestly, I was ridiculously scared.  I spent 15 minutes the day before just sitting on the stage with an empty house, wondering if I can do this or not.  I could and I did.  I asked my lovely friend Molly to accompany me on piano.  Nice to have a friend right there… I told her she could start talking to me in a cartoon voice if it looked like I was freaking out.  I’ve spent lots of time laughing at her trading cartoon voice messages with her own girls.  We played the second movement of the Taktakishvili Sonata.  This wasn’t the debut performance for my new flute that I envisioned back in August, but it was a success.  I still have a key extension on the flute for the first finger, as well as the water tube stuck on there to increase the diameter of the tube.  Again, a master teacher was able to guide me into ditching this stupid holding pattern and picking the flute up like I used to before being injured.  Nice to notice that I can generate a huge sound on this flute without having to work as hard as I used to on the old flute, especially when I’m not doing unnecessary muscular work.

It was nice to appreciated by people at this conference.  Moms generally don’t get warm fuzzies… or at least this mom doesn’t.  That being said, there are always people who aren’t happy no matter what you do.  The student workers at ISU were fabulous and definitely earned their money.  Other fun conference things:  my laptop died the night before my presentation (thankful for flash drive backup), my flight home was cancelled so I had to spend an extra night in Des Moines, and my reservation at the B&B was messed up so I was left scrambling for a place to stay the last night of the conference.

I struggled with the humidity there.  Going from the super cold air conditioning to the hot, humid Iowa weather was painful.  I could feel my hand expanding as I got out of the rental car to fill up the gas tank before returning it to the airport.  Then getting back in, the air conditioning made my hand feel like it was shrink wrapped.  The pressure changes on the airplane were not comfortable either.  Plus I tried to do my exercises, but I didn’t do them as often as I should.  Same for the icing – I made my own ice packs and had one set at the B&B and one set in the freezer at the music building.

Returning back to reality was hard.  It seems that I’m on 100% – no more extra help for my hand.  Fair enough, but it’s a shock to go from just taking care of yourself for a week to being responsible for two little people and a house.  Plus I was exhausted and have a ton of paperwork stuff to sort out for the conference.  Paying bills, writing checks, etc….

Got a phone call this week to interview for the adjunct flute position at a local university, so we’ll see what happens with that!

Key things I learned during this stage of my journey:

1) It felt fantastic to perform for an audience again.  There was a time in this whole process where I felt that I may never be able to do that again.  There’s immense satisfaction in knowing that I’ve done the work necessary to get to this stage.

2)  It makes me feel better to be around other fantastic musicians who are such caring people.  They understand the vulnerability that goes along with returning to playing after a devastating injury.  Not to say that ordinary people don’t get it, but these folks GET it.  These people are at the conference because they care about how bodies are put together and how they work.  They also understand the terrible feeling of frustration and emptiness that goes along with not being able to make music.  A soothing balm for my soul.

3)  I feel so sorry for some colleagues who have other physical issues that can’t be fixed surgically.  My injury is not fun, but it was something that can be fixed.  So I was very fortunate, because there is no easy fix for some musicians.  Sounds ridiculous to say that surgery is an easy fix because there has been nothing easy about this whole process for me.


Recovery Weeks #Eight, Nine, Ten & Eleven: May 22 – June 19, 2013

“O snail
Climb Mount Fugi
But slowly, slowly!” – Kobayashi Issa (Japanese poet known for his haiku and journals)

I’m back and slightly embarrassed about being a month late with my post!  Lots of things going on around here during the last month.  I was able to do more and more each day, but it seems to take twice as long as it should to do each activity.  Doing more activity results in more soreness and more ice.  My current exercises, in addition to the triceps and biceps curls, are flexing and extending my wrist with a 3 lb. weight.  I also do an exercise where I hold the weight palm down with arm out to the side, bend elbow and bring wrist to shoulder and then return to starting position.  I also do three exercises with a regular claw hammer – pronate and supinate (palm  up, palm down) with holding the hammer in a regular grip.  The third exercise is holding the hammer, elbow in, then pointing the head of the hammer down towards the floor.  3 sets of 15 repetitions each.  The farther away your hand is from the head, the heavier it seems.  I have a piece of blue resistance foam that I squeeze between index finger and thumb and also squeeze the whole piece into my palm and hold.  Still doing the tendon glide exercises, sideways finger dancing, hand flat on the table and picking one finger up at a time, little balls, little dowel.  The temptation is to get busy doing other things and forget about therapy.  DUH…. this is where discipline is key.  My surgeon told me that rehab is tedious and boring, and I absolutely agree.  At least it’s not ridiculously painful anymore!  My focus as a long-time weight lifter was always about more weight and pushing to the absolute limit.  This is a much different type of endurance-building kind of strengthening.  I wish there was a shortcut, but alas, there is not.  Persistance is the key.

I’m able to play some slow pieces without much finger movement on my flute.  I officially gave up on the vertical headjoint.  It was so nice to have this since it allowed me to get back to the flute two weeks earlier than I would have if I had to start back with regular flute.  10 minutes is my limit, so I don’t really get to “practice” much.  It’s playing straight through and then the timer goes off.  Again, thankful for my trusty iPhone with its timer.

Typing is better, although I recognized one aspect of of an adaptive hand use pattern.  Instead of moving my finger from F to G, I was moving my whole hand.  Hah… retraining myself to use my first finger, instead of letting middle finger and the rest of my hand help out.  I’m able to hold the hair dryer in my left hand and dry the girls’ hair with the brush in the other hand.  I can peel and chop vegetables and fruit, even sweet potatoes.  I can use the carrot peeler and the can opener!  Still difficult to wash frying pans unless they’re small enough to fit flat on the bottom of the sink.  I actually picked up my keys from a table in Dunkin’ Donuts without thinking about it!

I’ve noticed a holding pattern on my entire left side which is no longer necessary.  It’s the protective holding of an injured wing, even after the wing is healed.  I’m aware of this, but not necessarily sure how to get rid of it.  My strengthening is now geared toward the whole arm and whole hand.  I continue to think about various muscles that attach to my arm structure, trying to figure out how to get them to just calm down.  This is similiar to having to desensitize my incision site with friction massage and other unpleasantness.  Happy to report that the scar adhesion is much improved.

My husband went to California for a week, my first time as solo parent since my surgery.  It was eventually fine but there was a huge amount of stress due to family health issues, allergies and just plain exhaustion.  But I made it through.  However, my icing and exercises didn’t happen, but there was just no choice.  So, there was a bit of a set back there.

June 5, 2013 – OT #9  Everything is progressing nicely.  All the hand strength measurements continue to go up.  She said that there’s nothing much they can do for me.  I have the exercises and have to do the work.  I don’t have to go back until July 10th!

I’m looking forward to attending the Andover Educators conference at Iowa State.  It will be so nice to see friends that I only see every two years at these conferences.  I have a fair amount of work to do as one of the organizers, so it’s sure to be exhausting.  But, it’s worth it since I learn so much and get to spend time with great people.  That’s what it’s all about, just like the Hokey-Pokey.

Key thing I learned during this stage of my journey:

1) This is boring, dull, tedious, monotonous and absolutely necessary.  Just need to shut up and “git ‘er done,” to quote Larry the Cable Guy.  Some days are better than others, but the sun always comes up the next morning.



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